Farewell, Santa Barbara

Word has begun to spread already, so for many of Santa Barbara Beer’s readers this may be old news, but this will be likely the last post for this blog. It’s been a fun couple of years, but I’m moving out of the area and it wouldn’t make much sense to write about Santa Barbara beer and brewing when I live and work elsewhere.

There are plenty of projects ahead in the future, and those details when come out when they do, but for the moment let’s take a look to reflect on the past and current state of beer in Santa Barbara.

When this blog began in March of 2013, beer in the American Riviera was just beginning to take roots. Telegraph Brewing Company was in the process of expanding into its new and current location, Pure Order Brewing Company was still trying to get up and running and Island Brewing Company was the only option for beer in Carpinteria. Oh yeah, and no portion of Firestone Walker was owned by Duvel.

Two years later and not only was Pure Order up and brewing, but it is doing quite well. Telegraph continued its expansion and joined the contemporary beer scene with an IPA that stands along the best examples of the style in town. Not only does Island Brewing have some company in Carpinteria now, but it brewLAB and Rincon have proved to be impressive in their own right. As far as Island goes, the competition has seemingly only made the product coming out of the local area’s oldest production brewery that much better. Goleta’s Captain Fatty’s has become a family-friendly option in the area while Hollister Brewing Company continues to churn out Eric Rose’s typically impressive beer.

But not all developments have been unicorns and rainbows. Santa Barbara Brewing Company’s reviver, Kevin Pratt, said farewell to pursue other avenues. So too did Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company’s AJ Stoll, who is now back in the United States and plying his trade in Florida’s up-and-coming Funky Buddha. Oh yeah, and Firestone Walker “combined forces” with Duvel-Moortgat.

To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what that last sentence even means. A quick text conversation with David Walker, Jeffers Richardson and Jim Crooks confirmed that Duvel didn’t “buy out” Firestone Walker, but is definitely involved. To me, this sounds as though Duvel only bought a portion of the company — and not a controlling portion. All indications point to complete autonomy for Firestone Walker, but I’m sure as a major shareholder Duvel will want to ensure that the company remains profitable. Still, Ommegang and Boulevard have thrived under Duvel ownership, and I can’t imagine that Firestone Walker will be negatively impacted from its new partnership with the Devil.

If anything, I’m curious to see what Firestone Walker does with its new influx of cash. Along with the possibility of tapping into a larger distribution network, a deal of this type will likely provide the Paso Robles-based brewery with funds to take on new projects. The canning facility at the Paso campus is already a thing of beauty, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more beer come out in cans. Or perhaps some of the funding will go toward speeding up progress at the upcoming Venice location. This is all pure speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Firestone Walker increase its national footprint the same way we have seen Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, Lagunitas, New Belgium and a handful of others open new plants in other regions of the country. Or perhaps Firestone may take a similar route as Figueroa Mountain and open up smaller tasting or tap rooms in various locations. Maybe Barrelworks will get its own wort production equipment as well. Who knows? The point is that this new partnership should only bring positives for Firestone Walker and beer fans across the country — perhaps across the world. Duvel has proven it has the ability to invest in craft brands without tainting the product or the spirit of the company with its efforts with Ommegang and Boulevard, and it seems likely that Firestone Walker and its customers will only benefit from this new partnership.

I’m sad to leave Santa Barbara with its perfect weather and its rapidly expanding beer scene. I wish that I would have the opportunity to report on the openings of M Special in Goleta and Third Window in Santa Barbara. My departure from the community won’t slow down the growth that we’ve already seen, and I imagine the small void I leave will be filled soon by someone else.

It’s been a fun journey. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Bring Your Dog For Beer

Sometimes you need a good drinking buddy.

Sometimes you need a good drinking buddy.

Dogs are like children. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type to call my dog my son, and I certainly don’t refer to myself as Seamus’ dad or, God forbid, daddy (his real dad is here). Basically, I’m not this lady.

Yes, that's a dog in a baby stroller.

Yes, that’s a dog in a baby stroller.

But dogs are like children in a few ways:

— You can’t leave them in the car with the windows up.

— You can’t hit them in public, at least not in California.

— You can’t just leave them in the house all day and not expect a disaster when you get back.

So, this being a beer and brewery blog and all, I’d like to take a moment to honor the breweries in Santa Barbara that are as pet friendly as you are. The good news is that just about every brewery in the area is dog-friendly, so it’s a good-sized list. These are in no particular order, except I’m going to start with The Brewhouse, which is probably the most dog-friendly brewery in the area.

The Brewhouse

The Brewhouse is a brewpub, and therefore a restaurant, so don’t expect to be able to bring your dog inside. However, there’s a good-sized patio where dogs are welcome and servers will offer you a dog bowl for your thirsty pooch. But what makes The Brewhouse the best? It’s the dog menu.

That’s right, The Brewhouse loves dogs so much that they’ve got a menu just for your dog. Seamus is on a pretty strict diet, so we don’t necessarily go for it, but if you’d like your best friend to enjoy some dog biscuits covered in beef gravy, or steak bites, or chicken strips, then The Brewhouse has you covered.

Solvang Brewing Company

Maybe you’re in town filling up on homebrew supplies at Valley Brewers (which is also dog friendly and their own brew-dog is frequently minding the shop), or perhaps you need a break from your wine-tasting day for a beer and a burger. Whatever the case, Solvang BrewCo has a great outdoor patio much like the Brewhouse, only bigger. And while they don’t have a dog menu, a server will gladly bring you a dog bowl and your dog can just beg some scraps from you.

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

Both Fig’s Buellton and Santa Barbara locations have nice outdoor beer gardens where dogs are welcome. I typically shy away from bringing Seamus to the Funk Zone spot, as it’s all concrete and usually crowded, but the brewery’s main location in Buellton has a nice, soft artificial turf outside so your dog can get off his paws for a minute and chill out.

Pure Order Brewing Company

I can’t think of the last time I didn’t see a dog at Pure Order. The lush grass that originally adorned the beer garden has been replaced by a more drought-friendly landscape (I was sad to see it go, but it was a sensible and sustainable choice), but there’s plenty of room for the canine kind to roam and stretch their legs. I would never officially recommend taking your dog off-leash here, but I’ve seen more than a few dogs enjoying a little free-ranging among the hop garden*.

* A reminder — hops are toxic to dogs the same way chocolate is. If you have the kind of dog that likes to taste a little bit of everything in his environment, monitor him or her closely when the hops are out.

Telegraph Brewing Company

The city of Santa Barbara’s original production brewery welcomes friendly dogs into their tasting room. A note here though, the floor is all polished concrete, so if you happen to have a dog like mine that’s all rib bones, knee joints and ankles, bring something soft for it to lay down.

Captain Fatty’s

Enjoy Goleta’s newest brewery with the whole family — including the dog. The brewery has a certain appeal to families with young children (actually, I think Goleta in general has that appeal), so make sure your dog is good with kids before bringing them around.

Island Brewing Company

For some reason, I have a hard time heading south to Carpinteria without bringing Seamus. We’ve got friends with a dog he likes to play with (actually it’s a dog he likes to escape and explore with) and they’re welcome at all three of Carpinteria’s breweries. Island welcomes dogs on the patio, but not inside, so grab a seat under one of the umbrellas and send someone inside to get you a beer and a water bowl for your buddy.

Rincon Brewing Company

Rincon is a family-friendly brewpub, so you better bet that includes dogs. Like the other brewpubs on the list, dogs can’t come inside but are welcome on the patio. Seamus likes the high-top tables outside with plenty of room for him to stand underneath.

The brewLAB

The friendly folks at brewLAB welcome dogs to their small outdoor patio as well as inside their brewery. It can get crowded with people and other dogs from time to time, so I wouldn’t bring in a nervous animal, but your well-adjusted dog might enjoy sniffing a lot of new smells as you take in some of the best beer in the area.

Stay cool, y'all.

Stay cool, y’all.

Suds don’t stop at SB Border

Note: This column originally appeared in the January 1 issue of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Drink more beer. That’s my New Year’s resolution, what’s yours?

OK, to clarify, my New Year’s resolution is to drink more beer from more places. You would be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of Santa Barbara’s beer and brewing scene than myself, and I’m always excited to see what’s next on the local horizon.

For instance, I’m very interested to see what home brewer-turned pro Josh Ellis can do in Goleta with his brewery opening this year called M. Special. And I’m equally curious about what Third Window Brewing Co. will look like when it opens this year at the corner of Haley and Laguna streets.

But sometimes, to better appreciate what we have here in town, it’s worth it to get out and hit the road (with a designated driver) and see what other areas have to offer.

I recently took such a trip with two people whom I know needed to get out and stretch their legs – Pure Order’s co-founders James and David Burge. The cousins have spent most of the past year either in the brewery or out on sales calls, and every time I’d ask them if they’d had a beer from here or there, it was always the same response: “Haven’t had a chance yet.”

So we got a car and driver for the day and headed south. The first stop was to Carpinteria and the brewLAB.

The nano-brewery wasn’t open, but they didn’t mind letting in some fellow brewers to talk shop and taste a few beers. It helped that James and Dave brought a small growler of their own beer to share.

The brewLAB is insanely small for a production brewery, and right now co-owners Steve Jarvie, Rob Peed and Peter Goldammer are barely making enough beer to supply their own taproom – but my oh my is it amazing beer.

We could have spent the whole night cleaning out their supply of beer, but our goal was to broaden our horizons further, so we kept pushing farther south. We didn’t go too far, though, as the next stop was just down the road at the newly opened Rincon Brewery brewpub in downtown Carp.

We managed to steal away brewer Shaun Crowley to talk about the beer, and we traded another growler for some pretty nice Rincon Brewery hats. After a few beers – the Warrior Pride Red and Indicator IPA were favorites – and more than a few orders of the pretzel bites with bacon and cheddar dipping sauce, we were back on the road.

Every time I drive south to Los Angeles, I try to make a pit stop at Institution Ale Co. in Camarillo. James and Dave had never been, and that needed to be rectified.

The small brewery, located in an industrial park not far from the Lewis Road exit off the 101, has been turning out some of Southern California’s best beer since it opened and recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.

We got in just before the taproom opened for the evening, which was nice because Institution tends to fill up quickly. The three of us shared a bottle of the First Anniversary beer, a barrel-aged strong ale with lots of complexity and nuance that was almost too much for our palates at that point.

Our next and last stop was even farther south in Agoura at Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie. I’m not sure what I expected, but the actual pub was nicer than I imagined.

Most brewpubs have a certain feel – often an industrial one – that is hard to appreciate. Ladyface felt more like a nice restaurant. The beer and food were lovely, but even nicer was a chance to chat with and meet one of the pub’s managing partners, Cyrena Nouzille.

If I had to, I could probably settle on any one of those breweries as the only brewery for me for the rest of my life – but I don’t have to, and that’s the point. Santa Barbara is great, but we have a tendency here in the American Riviera to become a bit insulated.

For 2015, I encourage you to get out of the bubble and provide your palate with a little outside context. You’ll be glad you did.


Sean Lewis is a beer drinker, beer maker and the author of “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” (St. Martin’s Press). His column appears the first Thursday of the month. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_M_Lewis.